Astronomy discovery challenges knowledge of stars - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Astronomy discovery challenges knowledge of stars

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News release from The Wetherbee Planetarium  

Albany  –  You may have read in the news lately about a fairly recent discovery in astronomy that is leaving astronomers questioning what they know about the life cycles and behavior of stars.

An astronomer at Thronateeska Heritage Center says not to have worries about a recent discovery in our universe, though. Despite its enormous magnetic field, its safe distance away will cause no foreseeable problems in the near future for Earth.

An odd kind of neutron star called a "magnetar" because of its massive magnetic field is puzzling astronomers at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile. It is located in the constellation Ara (the Altar), 16,000 light years away in a star cluster called Westerlund 1.

This cluster is 3.5 to 5 million years old and should not have produced a "magnetar" because it is too young. Another problem is that the star that created this "magnetar" was far too large to have done what it did; it should have made a black hole out of its supernova remnant. The magnetic field that this "magnetar" has generated is about one million billion times stronger than that of Earth.

This strange behavior is causing a dilemma for astronomers. Because the giant collapsing star that created the "magnetar" did not behave as it should have, this might rewrite the book on stellar evolution of massive stars.

Discussions on this subject will be open to the public between planetarium shows at the Wetherbee Planetarium this Saturday, August 21st. Call 229-432-6955 or visit http://heritagecenter.org for planetarium show times.